Chapter One: Thurston Ridgely III
There have over the thousands of years been as many thousands of stories told of the Moon and the many magics and adventures associated with it. Of the gods that dwell there, or that ride it as a chariot. Of the man that is its face. Of the sway it has over men and beasts. But until now no one has told the tale of the man who walked to the Moon.
Further from London than Luton, but closer than Northampton was a small village, the name of which doesn't really matter. In this village was a small firm called Smythe, Hatley and Hyde; that did many boring things, such that any similarly named firm might do. And they employed a young man to do their books, as has been custom for so long. And it is in this fine occupation where we find our hero, a fellow by the name of Thurston Ridgely.
He should rightly have been called Thurston Ridgely III, if anyone truly minded. His grandfather, now passed, had been Thurston Ridgely, and his father, also gone, had been Thurston Ridgely Junior. For the people in the village though, there was only one Thurston Ridgely, and so that was his name. His mother, Victoria Ridgely, called him Thurston, as did his friends. Mr Smythe called him Ridgely, Mr Hatley called him Mister Ridgely, and Mr Hyde called him Boy.
All of these things are rather uninteresting though, as they mark only what Thurston has done, and who he is now. And it is the poorer man who finds that at twenty-two he has already been his most interesting self. What sadness there would be upon achieving a grand old age to look back and see fifty years of boredom and routine, when instead there could be adventure and surprise! And it is so often said that young men crave adventure. In this Thurston was no different from any other young man. He found no such thrill in the keeping of dull books of financial accounts (as I'm sure you will agree no sensible person would) and even as he took his notes and examined his figures he dreamed of more.
And it is here, buried deep beneath his heavy brown wool jacket, his finely embroidered yellow waistcoat, his starched-collared shirt and his years of English Public School education, that we find the true measure of Thurston Ridgely III. For while he may have sat in his little office, smiling to Mr Smythe or Mr Hatley or Mr Hyde, his mind was never fully engaged in their tasks. Always a small part of him yearned for what he had read about in the marvellous fictions of his youth. In the words of Perrault as spoken through Mr Samber, or the original English masters such as Shakespeare and Chaucer with their marvellous fantasies. At his very heart Thurston still believed in magic.
It seems a curious thing to say, especially at such an age he was, and after the supposed Age of Enlightenment, that he would still believe with all the childish innocence he possessed that magic could truly exist, and in the world in which he lived. Where others saw only the clouds or the trees or the stars, he saw fairies and elves, and great worlds as yet uncharted. And he was as convinced as any man has ever been that he was going to be one of the lucky few to chart them.
So now that we have met our hero, and heard most of what matters in his upbringing, let us turn to the events which begin our story. For although the events themselves are of no great import, it would be a little strange to begin a tale such as this in the middle. I could tell you of his encounter in the forest, or I could begin with how he fought with the Wind Riders in their ongoing war with the Smog. I could even begin this story in the stellar nursery. But if I was to do that then you would quite rightly question my choice of beginning, and wonder how exactly Thurston found himself in these situations, and indeed who Thurston even was, and why you should care. And so we begin slightly earlier, on the day that Thurston Ridgely would begin his long journey.
It was a Friday, much like any other, with little of note taking place. The 3rd of June in the Year of our Lord 1859. But a few days earlier the chimes of Big Ben had just rung out across London for the first time ever, and the whigs under Palmerston had just wrested control of the parliament from the Earl of Derby and his Conservative party (which is in itself a fascinating story that you should definitely look up, though I will not tell it at this time), and after the weekend Palmerston would meet with the Queen to officially form his government, but for now nothing much was happening in the fair country of England.
Thurston rose as he always did with the dawn, dressing quickly and rushing out of the door of his small house. In a village as small as this it was quite common for a man to be able to afford his own small residence young, and Thurston enjoyed his privacy very much. He had a small and simple lunch in a brown paper bag. A hunk of bread and cheese with a slice of ham. Just before seven thirty in the morning he hurried down the main street to the offices of Smythe, Hatley and Hyde.
In the office he set about his ordinary tasks. At eight o' clock in the morning Mr Smythe entered, putting up his hat and coat on the hat stand. He gave Thurston a curt nod and a brusque 'Ridgely,' to which Thurston responded with a bow of the head and a respectful 'Mister Smythe.' (It should be noted here that Mister Smythe's name was pronounced like 'Smith,' and woe betide anyone too fool to know this.)
After this at a half past eight Mr Hatley entered, hanging up his coat and hat on the next pegs along. His greeting to Thurston was an indolent smile, accompanied by 'Mister Ridgely.' Thurston offered to Mr Hatley a smile of his own, and 'Mister Hatley.' Mr Hyde was the last man to enter the office, at nine o' clock on the dot every morning. He hung up his hat and coat on the final peg, from where he would take them first at the close of business at five o' clock in the afternoon. To Thurston he offered simply a grunt, and Thurston replied with an exceedingly polite 'Mister Hyde.' To any people of America who may have found this book and be curious, for an Englishman to offer an overly polite greeting is often a sign of only the deepest contempt. Thurston felt he had mastered this subtle art in response to Mr Hyde.
The day proceeded as it always did. Tasks arrived from each of the partners and Thurston completed them with his usual efficiency. He had a short break at lunch to eat his meagre meal, and then it was back to work. At five Mr Hyde collected his coat and hat, having said nothing to Thurston all the day long. Mr Hatley was next at a quarter past the hour, followed swiftly by Mr Smythe, the last to leave at half past five. Thurston did not linger long after that, having truly finished his work at about a quarter to five, but he wished always to make a good impression on his employers. And so at thirty five minutes past five he collected his own coat and hat and left the office, locking it behind him, ready for the morning. He strode quickly back home with a slight spring in his step.
It is often said of small villages that there may be a church for one day of the week, but there is a pub for every single day. With the overabundance of watering holes the concept of the 'local' becomes apparent. And in every 'local' there are without fail the 'regulars.' Those stalwart unchanging fixtures who prop up the bar day after day, year after year. Such was the case at the Round Pidgeon, Thurston's local, along with his small group of friends. Often after work they could be found there, throwing back a pint of whatever was the cheapest that night.
Now, at long last, that moment known by authors as 'The Inciting Incident.' Without one our stories would scarce be worth putting pen to paper for. This is the call to adventure! That brave bold daring moment that will make or break our hero, even as he himself remains blissfully unaware of its importance. For Thurston it involves one pint too many, and a conversation in which he can't even remember how the subject arose.
"My mother used to tell me," he imparted, with a wave of his glass. "That you could walk to the Moon!"
Naturally this proclamation was met with the greatest derision his similarly inebriated companions could muster. "Rot!" Cried one. "Bunkum!" Roared another. "Nonsense!" Cried the third.
"What fool things our parents teach us!" Said the first, a portly young gentleman in an extravagant cravat named Jonathan Baker.
"My mother tried to convince me fairies were real!" Said the second, a rake thin man in a top hat by the name of William Battersley.
"Mine as well! Or that the Moon was made of cheese!" Said the third, an exceptionally tall fellow with an exceptionally wide moustache who was called Peter Whickett.
"My mother said all those things as well," Thurston admitted.
"And all above are utter lies." Jonathan was often the loudest of the three, and always the first to comment. He now took a long draught of his ale and set it down hard on the table. "These were no such thoughts to be putting into the heads of sensible men of business. What a good fortune we have all retained our wits!"
A round of 'Harumphs' and 'Jolly Rights' followed this. And normally that would have been the end of it. The conversation would have turned to their new Prime Minister or the new fashions coming up from London. But not tonight. Tonight Thurston had had a little too much to drink, and had a little of the courage such things impart. And so he said:
"Has anyone ever checked?"
The table went quiet. Every man there turned to look at Thurston. Jonathan's eyes were wide and his bushy ginger moustache bristled slightly as he sensed incoming hilarity. William had a slender eyebrow raised in disbelief. Peter had his glass halfway to his mouth in surprise as he stared.
"Has anyone checked what exactly?" Jonathan asked.
"Why that fairies are not real, that the Moon is made of cheese, or that a man may not walk there?"
The three others exchanged a look and in all their eyes was the beginning of a great mirth. It bubbled from Peter first in a loud and long laugh so much like the braying of a donkey that several other patrons of the bar looked around to find the location of such a beast. Jonathan was next, his guffaws deep and booming from the middle of his ample belly. Last was William, short barks escaping his mouth in rapid succession.
"Is it so wild to demand proof?" Thurston asked.
"The proof is there!" William told him. "Many learned men have concluded that fairies are simply a creation of fantasy, and as for the Moon, it is far away in space. It seems unlikely for it to be made of cheese, and impossible for a man to walk that distance."
Thurston found a most peculiar stubbornness was overcoming him in the face of his friend's scorn. "My mother told me one had only to climb the hill outside of town, and scale the tallest oak that stands there. Have any of these learned men come to our village and our hill and our tree?"
To this the only possible answer was no. For no learned man had come to their village, nor indeed had any noted men of knowledge ever come from it. For no matter how much any of the children or young adults may have complained of it, no one ever left either. The years went by and slowly dreams of leaving turned to practical thoughts of marriage and a house and children of their own who would also never leave.
"Well you must see Thurston," William said slowly. "Simply because no one has ever come to see whether every local legend is true, does not mean that they are all true until proven otherwise."
"And why not?" Thurston's voice was now rather loud, and others around the bar had begun to pay attention to their discussion. "Why must we accept that just because the consensus is against magic that it does not exist? Why can a man not climb Cow Hill, find the Oak tree and climb it as well, and step through into some sort of land whereby the distance to the Moon can be made under his own power?"
It is here that a small note must be made about Mister William Battersley. For where Jonathan Baker was much given to fits of mirth or anger, they were quick to pass. And poor Peter Whickett had never been quick of wit. And of course as we may now surmise Thurston was a somewhat naive soul. But against them William had a sharp and agile mind, much given to occasional torments and wagers, although only those he knew he could win. And he sensed an opportunity to satisfy both his craving of torment and wagers in one fell swoop here.
"Well surely," he began. "All it will take," he continued. "Is a man willing to make such a journey." He finished.
A light went on in the eyes of Jonathan and Peter. "Why yes!" Jonathan crowed. "And it seems we have such a man here who is willing to make that very journey!"
Thurston recoiled, his eyes darting from friend to friend. "What?"
"Well you seem to be so certain that this magical gateway exists, and that you can walk it. So prove us wrong!"
William leaned in and rested his arm on the table. "A wager."
"Yes, a grand wager. We each promise five pounds now. And if Thurston truly can walk to the Moon and return then he takes it all. But if he cannot walk to the Moon then we each take a pound and ten shillings from him."
This caused a moment of consternation, as five pounds was considered rather a lot of money back in these times. After all, Thurston's entire Christmas bonus had only been ten pounds. But the problem was quickly overcome by the other three. Jonathan came from more money than his friends, William was certain of his victory and poor Peter was of course simply led by the will of his friends. But alas the effects of alcohol on young men! Or perhaps we should praise it, for without that extra pint Thurston might have rightly come to his senses. But instead he shoved his own hand forwards and said loudly. "You have yourself a deal."
"Excellent!" William took his hand and shook it, then Jonathan, then Peter, and the deal was made.
"When shall you be off?" Jonathan asked as Thurston stood, catching his jacket from where it had been laid over the back of his chair.
"I shall set off at once." He said, pushing his arms into the sleeves and standing, taking his bowler hat from the table in front of him. "I shall return before you know it!"
"Well there's a point," Jonathan said. "After all, you could simply walk to the oak tree, come back tomorrow morning and assure us that you have found the Moon."
"We must have proof," William said. "Some sign of your journey."
"Well what would serve?" Thurston asked.
The three put their heads together and muttered amongst one another for a moment before turning back. "A Moon rock should suffice." Jonathan said. "Not being of this Earth such a thing would naturally present itself as proof."
"Hear hear," said William, concealing a chuckle. "Bring us a Moon rock Thurston, and we shall all believe you!"
"I will!" Exclaimed Thurston, aware now that many eyes were on him. "You only see if I don't!" And with much haught in his step he turned on his heel and marched from the pub, pretending not to hear the laughs of the men as the door swung closed behind him.
He paused only a moment outside the door to the pub, straightening his back and taking a deep breath of the cool night air. He checked his pockets briefly, and here I will divulge a little information for you.
The clothes which Thurston was to take with him on his long trek were thus:
- One pair of sensible brown leather shoes
- One pair of thick grey woollen socks (hand knitted by his mother)
- One pair of thick dark grey woollen trousers (not knitted by his mother)
- One plain white work shirt
- One embroidered yellow waistcoat, cut in the newest fashion
- One dark grey cravat
- One heavy brown woollen jacket, cut to the waist
- One dark grey bowler hat with a black satin band
- One pair of plain underwear, which had been white but were now a faded grey colour from overwashing
The items in his pockets were thus:
- A box of matches
- A pen knife, well sharpened
- A fountain pen
- A pocket watch, which had been his father's, a fine brass device
- A small amount of cash money in his coin purse
And finally over his arm was a black umbrella, as there should always be on the arm of any upstanding English gentleman.
Thus armed, and without any further preparation, he set out for the hill.